The BMW 5 Series has been a constant fixture of the large executive saloon segment since the original was launched in 1972. Since then, it has consistently been at or near the top of the sales charts, and for good reason; it looks good, drives incredibly well (even in its lowliest guise) and has a reputation for reliability and solid build quality. Better than ever, the latest model is available as both saloon and practical Touring model. We drove the £30,030 520d SE saloon to see if it should remain top of the tree.
The current car was originally criticised for playing it a little safe. However it remains one of the boldest models in the segment. There's a flow to its lines that is missing from the Mercedes E-Class and while the A6 may look more hi tech it lacks the BMW's presence. Best of all it works equally well as a practical Touring (estate) model, managing to look more lifestyle than load lugger.
With every generation the 5 Series has got bigger, and there's certainly no shortage of space in the cabin -- though it's worth noting that the high transmission tunnel robs some rear footroom. Still, those up-front are treated to a flowing dashboard arrangement, typically clear instruments and a superb driving position -- even the 520-litre boot in the saloon version is competitive. And now onto its second generation the firm's I-Drive controller is better than ever, proving to be much more intuitive than before -- after a few weeks at the controls you'll wonder how you managed without it.
Performance & handling
It's the way the 5 Series drives that really sets it apart from the rest of the executive norm -- for years the Munich maker has been refining it's rear wheel drive architecture, and in the 5 Series it really shows. Compared to rivals its much more communicative and compliant, the steering brimming with feedback and the suspension supple yet controlled. Be aware though, despite the advances in technology the run-flat tyres still thump over imperfections and cars without the active chassis are fractionally less enjoyable to drive.
Both the six speed manual and eight speed automatic gearboxes are great units -- the latter is probably one of the smoothest available in the segment and well worth the extra outlay in our opinion. Performance wise, even the ultra efficient 520d EfficientDynamics offers decent performance, sprinting from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds (one tenth behind the 520d SE saloon we tested), while the flagship M5 completes the same in only 4.4 seconds.
Economy & environment
BMW is undoubtedly at the forefront of being green, especially in this segment, thanks to its range of EfficientDynamics technologies. Almost all 5 Series versions benefit from a combination of these additions which include Auto Start-Stop, electric power steering, brake energy regeneration, low friction fluids, shift indicator and reduced rolling resistance tyres. The car even has Active Aerodynamics, special air flaps that open and close automatically to reduce drag and help the engine reach its operating temperature quicker.
On the whole the 5 Series is more efficient than its direct rivals, and if you opt for the 520d ED you can expect to achieve 62.8mpg on the combined cycle while returning less than 120g/km of CO2 emission. Even the 3.0-litre 530d returns north of 50mpg, while the petrol 528i manages more than 40mpg.
Equipment & value
As you'd expect for a car in this sector the BMW 5 Series is well equipped, even in its most basic form. All models benefit from 17inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, climate control, leather seats, keyless go, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity. But where BMW really scores is with the level of options and personalization available -- it even offers an array of reasonably priced option packages for media, chassis, lighting and comfort options. And those who like their motor to look and feel exciting should specify M Sport trim which benefits from 18inch alloy wheels, M Sport bodykit, sport suspension and aluminium interior trim.
It would be unthinkable to find the 5 Series hadn't achieved a full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash testing, and sure enough this is another model to benefit from the top award. Six airbags are standard, as is ESP but the 5 Series can also be had with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and night vision assist.
A consummate all rounder, not only is there a model of 5 Series to suit everyone -- be it saloon or practical but stylish Touring -- but every one is a delight to drive too. The Audi A6's understated looks may appeal more, but there's no doubt the 5 Series is the most dynamic looking in the sector while the interior is more than a match for any rival in terms of quality, space and equipment levels. And of course, with its EfficientDynamics technologies spread throughout the range the 5 Series is one of the cleanest and most economical executive expresses available -- perfect for both private and company users.
Model tested: BMW 5 Series 520d SE
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 141mph
Emissions: 125g/km CO2